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My theory is that this interest-I hesitate to call it an obsession-reflects genuine pride in the fact that railways were a British invention and the source of a dominant export industry for over a century. They contributed enormously to the 19th-century Industrial Revolution. They transformed people's lives, making it possible for them to live in the countryside and travel into towns and cities to work. They were responsible for creating most of Britain's seaside resorts and enabled working people to go on holiday.
Even today, the influence of Britain's railways worldwide cannot be overstated. Railways have been regulated and given special powers by government throughout history and their significance in people's lives, whether or not they are regular users, means that they have a very high profile and raise strong views.
Many railway staff are proud of the industry's heritage, which plays some part in their motivation. It is perhaps for all these reasons that from 1947 onwards the Government have considered it necessary to legislate to protect Britain's railway heritage, which has been actively supported by the industry, from the days of the British Transport Commission to today's rail companies. I hope that when replying to this debate the noble Earl the Minister will acknowledge this uniquely British success story and confirm that the Government will continue to encourage its progress and development.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, although I spent most of my working life on the railway, I did not collect engine numbers and I have no anorak to show for it. However, I believe that the economic arguments that the noble Lord has put forward are very sound.
I have been on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway to Whitby this year and on the Bluebell Line. Anyone visiting railways such as these will immediately pick up the tremendous enthusiasm of people who visit the sites. It is difficult to imagine a more attractive site to visit than the development of a model railway. We hope that some of these railways-the noble Lord mentioned the railway to Swanage-will shortly be connected to the main line, as is the Bluebell Railway. Then there will be the question of interworking with the main line, which many of us are sure will happen.
In the discussions that we are to have on the Railway Heritage Trust, it is important to ensure, first, that the artefacts that have been preserved so conscientiously in the past are transferred-if they have to be transferred-to a body that will take the matter very seriously. Secondly, we would like to be assured that the cost of the transfer is cheaper than what we have now. I am pleased to hear the noble Lord say that he is hopeful of an arrangement with the National Railway Museum. That will be a relief to me, because I expected to be told that the matter would be dealt with in Marsham Street, which would stop the collection of heritage artefacts for some years to come.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to participate in this debate. First, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner on the dedication that he shows to the heritage sector, which is absolutely vital. I am pleased to hear that he is going to be involved in all the various committees and is actively negotiating some continuity for the heritage sector in order to preserve our industrial heritage, rather as the National Trust and English Heritage do for our old buildings and landscape. They may have to end up owning half the forests in this country if one believes the press comments at the weekend. However, I return to the subject of the railways.
The heritage railways are still part of the national railway structure. They have the potential to-and sometimes do-fulfil a very useful role in moving people around, whether for shopping or getting to school. They do so effectively and reliably, and I think we will miss something if that does not continue. When I worked in Folkestone years ago, I noticed that the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway-which, as a narrow-gauge railway, is quite long-used to run a school service, taking kids to school every morning and bringing them back in the evening, and many other railways do that. In that respect, it is interesting to compare the heritage railways with Network Rail's branch lines. The All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group had a meeting last night with Sir Roy McNulty, who is carrying out a cost-reduction study for the Department for Transport. I told him that I hoped he was not going to start cutting Network Rail's branch lines due to the cost. Network Rail started off a year or two ago by saying that the freight-only lines cost £100 million a year. However, it could not provide any evidence for that and we ended up with a figure of £10 million, so something was slightly wrong with the estimation.
The Network Rail branch lines and heritage lines have one thing in common. There's a very cheap way of running light trains on them which could provide the service that I was just talking about. That is something like the Parry people mover. It is like a tram but it runs on the main line. It has been operating between Stourbridge Junction and Stourbridge Town extremely reliably-with a reliability rate of, I think, 99 per cent-since it has been going. During the recent cold weather, it operated much more reliably than the mainline trains. However, I foresee opposition to its use coming from the main railway people, the passenger operators and Network Rail. I often detect a similar reluctance on the part of some of the heritage lines to accept something like this to provide a service when they do not want to run steam trains or anything else; in other words, rather than run a daily service, they would prefer to keep the line doing nothing other than running a steam train on a Saturday.
I know that costs are involved but I hope that, as we move forward in the various debates on our railway heritage, we will try to see whether some of the issues facing not only the heritage lines but the Network Rail branch lines can be tackled, along with the problem of getting a connection between the two without spending an enormous amount of money on consultants' fees. We should see whether we can use this wonderful piece of infrastructure that is all around the country for the benefit of those who live locally. I see it as part of the localism agenda.
Lord Wigley: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, was able to bring this subject before us. There are five of Wales' little trains in my home area, including the Welsh Highland Railway, the Ffestiniog Railway and the Snowdon Mountain Railway, which provide major inputs into the local economy.
A study in 2009 undertaken in Bangor University-I have the honour of chairing the advisory board of the Bangor Business School-showed that some £9 million a year is already coming into the local economy, and the amount is likely to increase to about £12 million. About 250,000 visitors a year use the lines, which are also used by a lot of local people. This half term it will be possible to travel by steam from Caernarfon to Porthmadog and back. It is a tremendous journey, through Beddgelert and the Aberglaslyn Pass, where you experience a vista that you cannot see when you travel by road or drive. This is an important part of our economy.
My maternal great-grandfather came to the area as a railwayman, and I am therefore part of the heritage, I suppose. The impact of the railways on my area has generally been enormous since the 19th century. One thinks of the difference they made to places such as Llandudno, Aberystwyth and Pwllheli. Without the railways, those towns would not have grown. Would Holyhead be there, had it not been for the main line across Anglesey? The railways brought dramatic views-the Menai Bridge, the Froncysyllte viaduct and so on. Even where railways have stopped operating, we are lucky enough to have some cycle tracks, which elsewhere often live side by side with the small trains.
I should declare an interest. I am president of the National Library of Wales, in Aberystwyth, where we have a major collection of railway-related items, including the Henry Robertson collection, which is a major collection of railway plans and sections in north-east Wales from between 1842 and 1888. The collection is worth seeing, and includes plans used in the parliamentary process, with original manuscript drawings of the track layouts, bridges and buildings. There are some 12,000 items in that collection. The National Library has held day schools on these subjects for the Welsh Railways Research Circle. We have more than 2,000 photographs dealing with railways in the National Library and a number of paintings. In fact, one of the paintings is of the Friog Cutting accident in 1883 and is a unique item. There is a very warm welcome to be had there. There is a tremendous collection, which of itself is part of the railway heritage. I hope it will be seen as such.
Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I thank my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester for securing this debate. I shall not detain the Committee for long, but this is an important debate at an important time, when we debate other matters in this House. I pay tribute to the Railway Heritage Committee and the work that my noble friend is doing to secure its future during the passage of the Public Bodies Bill. I wish him all success in that.
As a tourist in the UK, I have had many pleasurable journeys on railways with my wife Alicia, after introducing her to the heritage railway sector some years ago before we were married. I had the pleasure of travelling on the narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway some years ago, and only last summer I travelled on the steam railway in Antrim, Northern Ireland.
What is striking about all these journeys is the enjoyment to be had and the variety of people who are travelling-including teenagers, young couples, children with their parents and grandparents, and people from all over the world. I concur with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, in this respect. As my noble friend Lord Faulkner said, these railways boost the local economy by supporting the hotel and restaurant sectors and other parts of the local tourism industry.
I agree very much with the comments of my noble friend Lord Berkeley, who is well known for his expertise in the transport sector as a whole. His knowledge of and support for the heritage sector are evident. I concur with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. Some of my earliest memories as a child are of getting on the boat train from Euston to Holyhead on our regular family holidays to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, heritage is the evidence of the past. The moment I decided that I was going to be seriously interested in 12-inches-to-the-foot-scale railways was probably when I was aged 14 and a Gresley J38 crossed the Grange Road level crossing in the west of Alloa. That became impossible-first, because we failed to preserve any of the Gresley
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Like stamp-collecting, an interest in the railways teaches people a lot about geography and probably economics, and causes them to travel. A huge number of books and DVDs are published. You can build up the historical identity of your locality. For example, the Alloa Waggonway, which existed from 1761 to 1929, was the first place at which iron was used for the rails. Curiously enough, there was a failure with wooden rails. They experimented with putting metal on top of the wood, but that did not work. Alloa probably has the earliest of all the railways.
Interest in the railways is multigenerational, which is in itself extremely useful. I have already mentioned our failure to preserve a Gresley J38, which is probably not as important as the failure to preserve one of the Peppercorn A1s, or allowing the "Duke of Gloucester" to deteriorate to the point where its rescue was remarkable. It has been very interesting to someone also interested in the built heritage how the A1 steam trust went about raising the money, not relying on large grants-although there were certainly generous donations-but by going out to build a class 8 locomotive based on the price of a pint. That meant people giving £5 a month. I am one of the late joiners at number 2,440, but I know that people giving between £5 and £10 a month to the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust means that it has a monthly income of £10,000, which is quite remarkable. I must admit, looking at what is happening to the locomotive "Tornado" at present, it is just as well that people are giving money in those quantities. It is certainly morale-building when something like "Tornado" comes to a preservation railway. Interest in it undoubtedly creates increased attendance.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, my thanks are also due to the noble Lord Faulkner, for introducing this debate. He is a dedicated heritage railway man and very knowledgeable. I propose to go on a slight diversion and take you briefly on a journey to Paraguay-a little visited, fascinating, landlocked country in the middle of South America.
In 1861, the Paraguay central railway, which was built, run and owned by the British, started construction. It was completed in 1911 with 376 kilometres of track between Asunción and Encarnación, where it crossed the great Paraná River and joined up with Argentine railways. The British continued to run it until 1959, when it was nationalised by President Stroessner and gradually fell into disuse until the restoration of democracy. It was then privatised in 1999, when Dr Lauro Ramirez took charge and created a plan for the restoration of the railway as a major tourist attraction. Fortunately,
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Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I, too, express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for providing us with this very useful debate today. I declare an interest as one of the numerous vice-patrons of the Bluebell Railway, which is endeavouring to raise funds in its 50th jubilee year. I believe that I have one or two colleagues in the House who are also vice-patrons.
Like the noble Lord, I think that heritage railways, particularly the Bluebell Railway on which I shall speak, epitomise all that one looks for in the big society as it is currently described. Last year, for example, the Bluebell was granted the prestigious Queen's Award for Voluntary Service. While it has a calibre of full-time employees, its mainstay is volunteers. Nearly 600 of them keep the organisation running and have done so for more than 50 years. Last year, the Bluebell line carried 187,000 passengers, including my noble friend. It is a good employer, a great tourist attraction and a great educator, not just for Sussex, where I reside, but also for the UK; people come from overseas to visit our steam trains. It had a turnover last year of more than £3 million. In addition to that, as others have described, there is a wider benefit to the local communities as people come in to see the railway.
As well as providing full-time employment for staff, it currently offers more than 40 full-time apprenticeships in its carriage, wagon and locomotive works, which are not only maintaining the old skills that are required but, with the use of technology, moving into new areas and developing new engineering skills.
The trust has very ambitious plans for growth. Of particular importance, it is now working on a northern line extension project that will link into East Grinstead and the national rail network. That gives the opportunity to talk about some of the issues which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned.
There is a final obstacle to be overcome: the removal of thousands of tonnes of household waste that were tipped into the Imberhorne cutting on the outskirts of
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The Bluebell Railway is a charity and many of our volunteers are having a problem with the cost of providing fuel for their cars, which affects the numbers who turn up. We are also having problems with the local authorities, which are suffering expenditure cuts, and that is also a concern for us. We are therefore looking for donors.
As the train is ahead of schedule, I shall take an extra minute to make an appeal for donors, in the hope that people will be prepared to put themselves forward. In terms of the big society, we are looking to individuals and groups, but I also make an appeal to bigger organisations. The Bluebell Railway line will end at East Grinstead, adjacent to a big Sainsbury's store. Sainsbury's will gain considerable benefit from having this heritage railway running alongside its store. As we have not been able to persuade a large company to make a very helpful donation towards what we are endeavouring to do, perhaps I may appeal to the noble Earl. In spite of all the problems that he has, perhaps he could have a helpful word in the right quarters with some of the bigger organisations around East Grinstead, which so far have not pulled as much weight as we would have wished, and that might help in getting the rest of that household waste out of the cutting. I look forward with great interest to a response on that.
Lord Rosser: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester on securing this debate, which has attracted many fascinating contributions. My noble friend is an active and committed supporter-indeed, leader-of the heritage railway movement. I know of his dismay when he found out the potentially devastating implications for the work-past, present and future-of the Railway Heritage Committee, having discovered that it had been included in the dreaded schedules to the Public Bodies Bill. My noble friend has since campaigned tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure not the continuation of the committee in its present form and relationships but the continuation of the vital statutory role and functions that the committee currently undertakes to protect our railway heritage.
It is clear from my noble friend's comments today that substantial progress has been made, one hopes, towards achieving that goal. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, are-how shall we put it?-not exactly hindering my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester in seeking to achieve his worthy and honourable objective. If I have judged the situation correctly, then I congratulate the two noble Lords concerned for the good that they, too, have done, and are doing, on this issue.
My noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester has given the facts and figures on the considerable contribution being made by heritage railways to the economy-frequently, as he said, in areas where jobs are at a premium and the local economy needs every boost it can get. However, the attraction of our heritage railways goes deeper than that. Heritage railways have to meet the tough operating and safety standards of the Office of Rail Regulation before they can carry any passengers. They are real railways and working railways, not static museum pieces with no life and character of their own. They are the living embodiment of railway life and the railway experience in the era when steam was supreme. That is why they attract the interest, involvement and commitment of so many volunteers and enthusiasts in restoring, maintaining and operating steam locomotives and formerly closed passenger lines, and it is why they attract, to the economic advantage of the local communities concerned, the patronage of so many passengers-mainly tourists-who want to sample or remember the age of steam and the early days of diesel traction. It is a passion and an interest widely shared. Indeed, my 60th birthday present from my family was a couple of hours on a heritage railway in Derbyshire driving a steam locomotive up and down the line-under strict supervision, I hasten to add, and not with any passengers. It was a fascinating experience and something that I had always wanted to do.
As a nation, we are proud of our history and of our past, and we are prepared to invest our time, our energies and our money in ensuring that that history is preserved and valued. Our railways are an important part of that history, and the great strength of the growing and expanding railway heritage sector is that it truly achieves that objective of preserving and valuing our memorable and nation-changing railway history. Even more importantly, though, the sector does that in a way that, as the now heritage railways did when they first opened so many years ago, strengthens and develops the economies of the communities that it serves, by attracting large numbers of visitors and tourists and creating jobs, as well as now providing the younger generation with a living insight into life in a previous era.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, for introducing this enjoyable and fascinating Question for Short Debate. He did so with his usual eloquence. I, too, am a preservationist, but I get involved with classic military and commercial vehicles. Nevertheless, I well understand the motivation, and I frequently visit preserved railways.
This is a good time to be debating this matter. Sixty years ago, a group of amateur railway enthusiasts was given control of the Talyllyn Railway in mid-Wales, a statutory railway company, and on 14 May 1951 they achieved a world first-the operation of the first public passenger train of the preservation era. At the time, many doubted whether the venture would succeed, but it did, and since then the heritage railway sector has
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Indeed, for Tom Rolt, the distinguished author and one of the founders of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society, the venture was a small but significant move against what he saw as the prevailing trends of the time of creeping state control of people's lives and the increasing uniformity of our industrial processes. In a real sense, the railway preservation movement was an early flowering of what we now call the big society, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and touched on by another noble Lord as well.
That is all the more remarkable when we consider the scale of the task facing railway preservationists. To give just one example, the pioneering Talyllyn was still using its original track and rolling stock, which were 85 years old when the preservationists took over, presenting them with the pressing need for expensive renewals. The heavy engineering task is no less awesome today.
To emphasise individual achievement is not to say that the Government are uninterested in railway heritage. Through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport we sponsor the National Railway Museum, the largest in the world. In 2011-12, the department is funding the National Museum of Science and Industry, of which the NRM is a major part, to the tune of £37 million. Of course, all noble Lords are delighted to hear of the new appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner. The Department for Transport currently sponsors the Railway Heritage Committee, of which more later.
I turn to the subject of the debate. Let us first consider the sector's contribution to education. Heritage railways provide living museums, enabling the younger generation to learn an important aspect of social, economic and engineering history at first hand. To give just one example, the Sittingbourne and Kemsley Railway in Kent provides educational visits for schools and has recently appointed an education officer who is currently working to provide material relevant to the curriculum. It has developed an association with a local scout group to provide interesting and useful railway-based activities in which group members from different age groups can participate. The railway also works with Swale Skills Centre to provide training for suitable candidates.
I turn to the sector's contribution to tourism and the regional economy. These are two sides of the same coin, and many noble Lords have made contributions on this topic. Heritage railways create direct paid employment, often in areas where jobs are in short supply; promote tourism and attract visitors to their areas; and generate spending on services in the area, and indirect employment.
This is not mere conjecture. For example, academic research in 2008 on the local contribution of the Ffestiniog Railway showed a total economic impact on Gwynedd of between £8 million and £9 million per annum, with between 334 and 375 full-time posts supported in the region. Thus, the total benefit to Gwynedd was estimated at £15 million a year. In England, the East Lancashire Railway Trust has estimated that the railway yields total regional gross value added of £1.6 million and supports around 70 direct, indirect or induced jobs in the local community.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about making full use of the heritage railways infrastructure. Heritage railways provide other benefits too. The West Somerset Railway has recently been running freight trains, delivering stone from the Mendips for coastal defence work and keeping heavy lorries off the Somerset roads. The heavy engineering workshops that these railways often have to establish provide a valuable engineering capability for the wider community.
I should also mention the Government's role in safety regulation. The heritage railway sector voiced concerns that changes to the safety regime might prove to be disproportionately burdensome to its operations, prior to the introduction of those changes in 2006. Through discussion with the department, the sector was able to agree the final implementation timetable for those changes, which included an additional six months' preparation period prior to their application to non-mainline railways, during which the safety regulator provided operators with additional support and guidance.
Accessibility has been another regulatory issue affecting heritage railways. We know that the sector takes accessibility seriously, but the department recognised that it would not be desirable to destroy the very nostalgic atmosphere that passengers, including those with disabilities, wished to experience, by making old carriages fully accessible. Therefore, Parliament agreed last year to exempt, by order, all pre-1999 vehicles on heritage and tourist networks from accessibility requirements in perpetuity.
I promised earlier to return to the Railway Heritage Committee. Last October, the Government announced our decision in principle to abolish the committee, and the committee has been listed in Schedule 1 to the Public Bodies Bill to facilitate that change. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has proposed a transfer of the committee's power of designation to another body-for example, the board of trustees of the Science Museum, which is the legal entity behind the National Museum of Science and Industry, which includes the National Railway Museum. It is important to remember that the role of the Railway Heritage Committee is to designate items, not to hold them; I am sure that all noble Lords will agree.
The Government recognise the valuable work that the noble Lord has done on this proposal. While not wishing to pre-empt the debate on this matter that will take place during Committee stage of the Public Bodies Bill, I assure him that positive discussions are continuing between the relevant government departments.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred to the prospect of the Bluebell and Swanage Railways connecting to the main lines. The Government look forward to
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The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, talked about the Parry people mover. I do not know much about this project, but we must look at all practical options for reducing the cost of the railway while maintaining services.
In his opening comments, the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said that there was a fleet of 800 preserved locomotives, but of course there are many more waiting to be restored. There is no shortage of work. The noble Lord also mentioned the "Tornado" project. I am sure that all noble Lords look forward to the boiler problems being resolved.
The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, talked about Paraguay. I acknowledge the importance of the history of the major contribution that UK engineering firms made to overseas railways. The noble Viscount mentioned a famous steam locomotive that was built in Scotland. I recently read a fascinating book about the building of railways around the world.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, mentioned the Bluebell Railway, which I have visited more than once. Having been educated at Stowe School, I look forward to the "Schools" class locomotive of that name being returned to running order after giving sterling service. That locomotive was originally secured by my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, also talked about the East Grinstead extension of the Bluebell Railway. We congratulate that railway on its efforts to remove waste from its line extension. I am sure that the noble Lord will continue to press local businesses to contribute to the line extension, but sadly it is not my role as a government Minister to intervene.
In conclusion, I am grateful for this opportunity, in its 60th anniversary year, to congratulate the railway heritage sector on its successes, often in the face of monumental engineering and financial challenges, preserving an important aspect of the nation's heritage, enriching the lives of millions and providing tangible and very welcome support to our regional economies.
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